Executive Function, Social Emotional Learning, and Social Competence in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Berard, Nathalie Catherine Marie
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Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, University of Regina

The main objective of this study was to investigate the concurrent role of multiple antecedents of social competence in a group of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Existing models of social competence were adapted to include three domains of executive function (EF: Cognitive, Behavioural, and Emotional Regulation), and two domains of Social Emotional Learning (SEL: Nonverbal Awareness, Social Understanding). The EF domains were related to sustained attention, working memory, planning, behavioural inhibition, and affective decision making; SEL domains included social comprehension, and identification and interpretation of social cues. Social competence was defined in terms of social skills and adaptive social functioning. The relationships amongst the EF and SEL domains, and social competence were examined in a sample of 49 boys with ASD and 48 neurotypical boys, aged 8 to 13 years. Results showed that the ASD group performed significantly below the control group on most SEL and EF domains. Children with ASD were also rated significantly lower on social competence measures and parental ratings of EF. Importantly, the EF domain of Cognitive Regulation predicted social competence in boys with ASD whereas the SEL domain of Social Understanding predicted social competence in neurotypical boys. These findings contribute significantly to our understanding of social competence and quality of life in boys with ASD. The observation that Cognitive Regulation predicts social competence in boys with ASD has important clinical implications for specifically targeting EF in both assessment and treatment.

A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology, University of Regina. ix, 225 p.